When they were on their feet again, he questioned Nightspore. "We came here solely to hear that?"
Nightspore cast one of his odd looks at him. "It's called locally 'The Drum Taps of Sorgie.' You will not hear that name again, but perhaps you will hear the sound again."
"And if I do, what will it imply?" demanded Maskull in amazement.
"It bears its own message. Only try always to hear it more and more distinctly.... Now it's growing dark, and we must get back."
Maskull pulled out his watch automatically, and looked at the time. It was past six.. .. But he was thinking of Nightspore's words, and not of the time.
Night had already fallen by the time they regained the tower. The black sky was glorious with liquid stars. Arcturus was a little way above the sea, directly opposite them, in the east. As they were passing the base of the tower, Maskull observed with a sudden shock that the gate was open. He caught hold of Nightspore's arm violently. "Look! Krag is back."
"Yes, we must make haste to the house."
"And why not the tower? He's probably in there, since the gate is open. I'm going up to look."
Nightspore grunted, but made no opposition.
All was pitch - black inside the gate. Maskull struck a match, and the flickering light disclosed the lower end of a circular flight of stone steps. "Are you coming up?" he asked.
"No, I'll wait here."
Maskull immediately began the ascent. Hardly had he mounted half a dozen steps, however, before he was compelled to pause, to gain breath. He seemed to be carrying upstairs not one Maskull, but three. As he proceeded, the sensation of crushing weight, so far from diminishing, grew worse and worse. It was nearly physically impossible to go on; his lungs could not take in enough oxygen, while his heart thumped like a ship's engine. Sweat coursed down his face. At the twentieth step he completed the first revolution of the tower and came face to face with the first window, which was set in a high embrasure.
Realising that he could go no higher, he struck another match, and climbed into the embrasure, in order that he might at all events see something from the tower. The flame died, and he stared through the window at the stars. Then, to his astonishment, he discovered that it was not a window at all but a lens.. .. The sky was not a wide expanse of space containing a multitude of stars, but a blurred darkness, focused only in one part, where two very bright stars, like small moons in size, appeared in close conjunction; and near them a more minute planetary object, as brilliant as Venus and with an observable disk. One of the suns shone with a glaring white light; the other was a weird and awful blue. Their light, though almost solar in intensity, did not illuminate the interior of the tower.
Maskull knew at once that the system of spheres at which he was gazing was what is known to astronomy as the star Arcturus.. .. He had seen the sight before, through Krag's glass, but then the scale had been smaller, the colors of the twin suns had not appeared in their naked reality.... These colors seemed to him most marvellous, as if, in seeing them through earth eyes, he was not seeing them correctly.... But it was at Tormance that he stared the longest and the most earnestly. On that mysterious and terrible earth, countless millions of miles distant, it had been promised him that he would set foot, even though he might leave his bones there. The strange creatures that he was to behold and touch were already living, at this very moment.
A low, sighing whisper sounded in his ear, from not more than a yard away. "Don't you understand, Maskull, that you are only an instrument, to be used and then broken? Nightspore is asleep now, but when he wakes you must die. You will go, but he will return."
Maskull hastily struck another match, with trembling fingers. No one was in sight, and all was quiet as the tomb. The voice did not sound again. After waiting a few minutes, he redescended to the foot of the tower. On gaining the open air, his sensation of weight was instantly removed, but he continued panting and palpitating, like a man who has lifted a far too heavy load.
Nightspore's dark form came forward. "Was Krag there?"
"If he was. I didn't see him. But I heard someone speak."
"Was it Krag?"'
"It was not Krag - but a voice warned me against you."
"Yes, you will hear these voices too," said Nightspore enigmatically.
A Voyage to Arcturus -by- David Lindsay